“The forest feels & if you’re not careful, it follows.”
To go on a company retreat, I have to become “the work person” over cocktails, conferences, & conventions, distanced from my home, & myself. I attend every lunch & happy hour, moving things along & up, a perfunctory functionary.
For Halloween, my boss invited us to his house in the woods, which was an unwanted weekend away from my me & mine.
The car service picked me up & my husband kissed me extra, smiled only to me, carried my bags out, opened the car door, & waved; his smile a ring in my mind.
The lady from HR sat up front and grumbled over NPR & next to me the guy from accounting plugged into headphones. Traffic was fast & the trees at their bright beginning of their final cycle dripped color like sopping impasto paint brushes.
Arriving at the rustling wooden house was fresh air slamming into city sensibilities. Trees tall & stately grew in a thick grove of green, their white bark glowing against the shrubbing shadows. The all-wood foyer was vaulted lofty, furnishings & windows throughout were framed in birch.
Others from the office arrived & we networked around the fully-equipped fire pit as evening fell. My boss lumbered out, a self-built billionaire Paul Bunyon, & fed the fire cord after cord.
I moved away from the conversation & stood aside in the shadow of the woodpile: my husband answered on the first ring; I could hear his smile. As he spoke, the woodpile transfixed me, & I stared at its’ dried, dead, limbs covered with a messy mix of fungus genus. The fire shadows danced off the barnacled wood, gilled mushrooms like breathing rainbows on a trout. The hearty stack of birch was lined with comic red-capped toadstools blooming with fluffy white spots.
My boss heaved out a massive stump covered in red toadstools & hoisted it into the fire. The plume of smoke erupted from the flames, the toadstools puffed out a burst of red spores, scenting the air with a heavy, heady feeling like the soggy basement of a ruined memory.
The party slogged to an oddly prosaic halt.
Within the silence, words crept within my skull, “This house was built from this forest. When you need shelter or warmth, we provide. We share resources.”
My boss looked around & jogged into the glowing mansion cabin.
An alive humming in my earbones, like a record player that’s not grounded: “We grow in the devastation of a clear cut, & with the remains of our parents’ roots, we came back as an enhanced green grove. So strong, even, we could allocate nutrients back to them, who were once so mighty.”
A splintered, screaming rip came from inside the house; I ran inside to help, to see: my boss was impaled on a flooring phalanx. The man shoved through with crudely torn wood gaped like the hole torn into the kitchen.
The logs comprising the frame of the house rolled their ancient mass apart, splitting walls from roof, dis-lodged, rolling timber crushing my co-workers, splattering them like red toadstools as I ran, pushing paralyzed people out of my way to take shelter at my last safe place: behind the wood pile.
The words that filled my ocular space made my mouth fall wide: “We are pioneers, growing where there is only death, because we are already throughout the earth, everywhere you stand, every inch of soil wrapped tight with microfungi, a network that connects everything that grows, to warn, & to survive.”
My scream was in a chaos chorus; another woman belted terror; words were in her too.
“The microfungi filament is wrapped in chitin, same as an insect. You did not even feel it as its’ fungal threads wove its way into your porous skin.”
My feet would not move, riveted. My brain snapped, livewire. My eyes rolled wild alongside my thoughts, which started blasting panic sirens in a physical traffic jam.
The spot where my skull & spine meet started blaring heat, a multitude of sounds, codes, transmissions.
“The forest feels & if you’re not careful, it follows. It is a super-organism, stay close to your copse & you will be part of our protection. We are a system working as one, listen to our voices & begin to understand our messages, & as I stood there, engrained, I did.
The night passed in a constant commotion of communication. The morning air was an oxygen bath of fresh photosynthesis, the atmosphere alive & my connected consciousness became a comforting chatter.
My own thoughts had to wait to merge with the other mind messages, & time passed every moment a drop of glowing amber syrup. Movement was stop-motion, with every inflection a strategy of elasticity. Concentration movement not able to be seen, but the work kept a bit for myself. I walked, mindfully moving me.
I write my words on rolled birch bark, peeled from my soft core, & the rings are not words as you will recognize.
Months reached years & I grown to a tree’s height, my canopy spread wide, blocking any other trees from my periphery. I moved away from the forest, a wolf tree in the woods, far away, wild & alone, until my own was the only words that existed: forest.